I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed any of these novels.
The Maisie Dobbs novels are one of my favorite mystery series. The author is Jacqueline Winspear, and her first novel was Maisie Dobbs. It introduced us to Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator. It begins in 1929, when Maisie opens her investigation office after serving an apprenticeship of sorts with a legal scholar who also worked as an investigator and scholar. Maisie was a nurse who served in a casualty clearing station in France during the Great War. Maisie Dobbs is a wonderful book, with frequent flashbacks to young Maisie, when she had to go work for the Comptons, a noble family, at the age of thirteen after the death of her mother. Through the Comptons, she meets her mentor, who is a family friend of the Comptons. Lady Rowan Compton eventually sponsors Maisie’s education.
Although it was a mystery, it was also a tragic romance and a historical novel, and it really didn’t fit into the framework of a traditional mystery. The remaining novels do settle into that framework, which is why Maisie Dobbs remains my favorite book of the series.
Although these are considered mainstream mysteries, they have light but unmistakable fantasy elements, mostly in the power of Maisie’s mind, which borders on psychic. The fantasy elements are very subtle, and exist mostly in premonitions that always come true, brief flashes of the future, and feeling a wrongness about certain areas.
These novels are sometimes more plot-driven than I like. I’m not really reading this mystery series for the mysteries. Maybe because of that, I’m not a true mystery fan. I read novels for the characters, and when I come back to novels again and again, it’s because of my love of the characters. Alexander McCall Smith understands this, which might be why his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series is more about the characters than about the very light mysteries (and where the main character even got married and not only managed to continue her career, but whose career sucked in her husband).
Because of the plot-driven nature of each novel in the Maisie Dobbs series, events in her personal live progress at an arctic pace, even while the novels themselves are quick reads. She has a romance that lasts several novels before you as a reader realize that the romance is going nowhere. It takes Maisie a whole other novel to come to the same conclusion. And then you have an entire novel without any hint of romance whatsoever, except to drive the final knife in the love story of the first novel.
I think the reason I love this series so much is because it immerses the reader so well in another time and place. I rarely read contemporary novels because I love to be swept away to elsewhen when I read. There are little touches everywhere throughout the books, from the way Maisie answers the phone, to having to type out lengthy manuscripts more than one time because there is no document duplication, to the necessary proliferation of public telephone kiosks. London is called “The Smoke” because of the horrible pollution of coal-smoke, and people literally flee it at least once a year for some fresh air. The worldwide depression is more and more evident with each novel, and in the later novels (1931 and 1932), you see people beginning to worry about what’s going on in Germany. Widows and spinsters (like Maisie) abound because so many y0ung men were killed.
Maisie has her faults, and one of them is that she tends to hold on to a grudge. She doesn’t always do the right thing. But she always repents, which is why we always forgive her. The most intriguing thing about Maisie — and the most compelling — is that she really doesn’t belong anywhere. Because of her education, she no longer fits in among the humble people of her birth. Even her manner of speaking sets her apart. However, her birth will always separate her from those who are born higher. Her aging father is the only person she has left in the world.
Here are all the books in the series so far:
- Maisie Dobbs (2003)
- Birds of a Feather (2004)
- Pardonable Lies (2005)
- Messenger of Truth (2006)
- An Incomplete Revenge (2008) (which I just read)
- Among The Mad (2009) (which just came out in paperback, and which I will read very soon!)
I high recommend this series. Not a single novel has disappointed me so far.
Sorry about the lack of links. I just wanted to introduce you to the series before I posted my review. If you want more information, Jacqueline Winspear‘s website is the best place to look. Check it out and let me know what you think.